There was no fan fair. No big grand opening shin-dig. There weren't even any flyers out in the neighborhood. Or maybe there was and we just don't get out often enough. Point is, unlike many other restaurants in The Woodlands, Zoës Kitchen has been open a little over a month now, and we didn't even know it. So we thought we'd pop in and give the Houston area's newest location a try. We arrived around 5:30 in the afternoon, early for the dinner crowd, but we'd skipped lunch. There were several tables seated in the mid-sized restaurant, and a couple in front of us, giving us a few minutes to look over the menu. This, being our first visit, was less than spectacular.
Zoës Kitchen is a counter-order setup; you order and pay for your meal, are given a number, and a server will bring your food to your table. Inspired by Zoë Cassimus' original recipes, Zoës Kitchen makes their food from scratch on site at each restaurant. For the most part (excepting, say, the desserts) dishes are wholesome. It's Mediterranean-inspired comfort food, with nothing fried, lots of fresh veggies and young cheeses. There are also gluten-free and vegetarian options. And for the grown-ups, there is a selection of beers and wines.
When they say the food is wholesome, they're not kidding. This is not the place for you if bacon is it's own food group or if Paula Deen is your hero. Which is not to say that Zoës is strictly health food; there is for instance egg salad and pimento cheese, and they do offer mayonnaise on some of their sandwiches (or all of them, by request). Having never been to a Zoës, we asked our cashier/host Shelby for some advice. She informed us we couldn't go wrong with the Tomato Bisque soup, so we opted for a half turkey sandwich with a side of the soup. We also ordered a Grüben; a grilled turkey sandwich, with a side of marinated slaw. Curiously, when asked which dessert she recommended, "Yaya's Hand-made Chocolate Cake" or the "House-baked Chocolate Chip Cookie," she went with the cookie. We thought surely she'd say the cake - apparently it's one of the things Zoës is known for. But again, we took her advice.She Said
The half sandwich/soup combo: ($5.99) The bowl of soup that came with the combo was pretty generous, and was served along with about a half a pita. The bisque was lukewarm, warm enough to melt the shredded mozzarella that was sprinkled on top. It also had about a teaspoon of fresh basil on top. The bisque had a really nice flavor to it; certainly fresh, not canned. There was a hint of spicy-ness to it, but not over-powering. It was the sandwich that gave us pause. There was so little to it, is was as if Zoës had taken a class in staged sandwich preparation (thank you, HTownChowDown for this gem). The turkey sandwich is one of the few stating it contained mayonnaise, however, ours was dry. It also only contained about two ounces of turkey, one and a half small slices of tomato, and some iceberg lettuce shreds. We weren't expecting a sandwich of Katz's proportions, but this truly seemed like a child's portion.He Said
The same was true for the Grüben ($7.39); this grilled sandwich was supposed to contain grilled turkey, Swiss cheese, slaw and spicy mustard on rye, but again, the amount of turkey was surprisingly thin. Oddly, there was also no Swiss, but rather what we took to be their Feta spread. The sprinkling of slaw on the sandwich was the same slaw ordered as the side. The marinated slaw was certainly different than any we'd had. It was not served cold, nor was the cabbage crisp. On a positive note, both the 7-grain bread for the turkey sandwich, as well as the rye for the Grüben were extremely fresh and soft.
Hoping we had saved the best for last, we split the 5-inch-across chocolate chip cookie ($1.95). Sadly, it seemed woefully under-baked; it also seemed to be missing something, as it was a bit bland. Our guess was the vanilla and the salt. Surprising how much flavor comes from the two ingredients with the smallest portions in the cookies.
We did ask a server if there was a manager on duty whom we could speak to, and while she said she would get them, one never materialized. It's unfortunate that our first experience with Zoës was less-than-great; we were really looking forward to having a healthier alternative in the "middle" of The Woodlands, in the same vein as Jason's Deli or even Panera.
So maybe we just caught them on a bad day. Judging by the steady stream of customers that arrived while we dined, we could be in the minority in our opinion. This is not to say that we think that many people like Zoës Kitchen while we weren't impressed. Most all new restaurants will initially be busy for at least the first month or two, it's the eateries that continue to stay busy after the 'honeymoon' that have a chance at surviving. We will probably give them at least one more try, the next time we're out that way. But with over 400 restaurants in the greater Woodlands area; it's possible that we may just end up somewhere else.
Think we got it wrong? Or did we hit the nail on the head? Let us know in the comments below. And remember, you don't have to take our word for it - give them a try for yourself and lettuce know what you think!